Subject: AU: Cigarettes ignite East Timor lawyers' strike

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Australian

10 August 2002

Cigarettes ignite East Timor lawyers' strike

By Paul Toohey

EAST Timor's 40-odd lawyers are on strike. The judges and registry staff have all gone home. In the words of one Australian lawyer working in Dili, the courthouse is abandoned "but for two sleepy policemen".

East Timor lawyer's association president Benevides Correia Barros said lawyers would not work until East Timorese border officials and police recognised that the bad old days, when they did as they pleased, were over.

The problem began in February when Customs Service Control -- the border police -- seized cigarettes worth $US1200 ($2250) belonging to a small-time trader, Marsal dos Santos.

It was claimed he had not paid import duty but his lawyers argued Mr dos Santos, who was nabbed well inside the East Timor border near Balibo, had bought the cigarettes inside the country and they were legal.

At a preliminary mediation hearing, lawyers asked for the cigarettes -- believed to be the clove-scented killer, Gudang Garam -- back. This was refused so the matter went to court. Customs was ordered to send a representative on three occasions, but each time no one showed.

Finally, a judgment was made in favour of the trader and the cigarettes ordered to be returned. But customs still refused to give them back.

"There are three arrogant border control officers who say they do not obey East Timorese law," says Mr Correia Barros. "They say they prefer Portuguese law."

A judge issued an arrest warrant for the three customs officers but, says the lawyer, "the police won't go and arrest them. The judge and we don't know why. If police get a court order, they have to obey it. This is crazy."

President Xanana Gusmao stepped in on the four-day-old strike yesterday afternoon. Mr Correia Barros said the President promised to call the Police Commissioner immediately to order the customs officials' arrest.

The lawyers say they will stay on strike until the cigarettes are returned and the customs officers arrested.

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